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“Non stamped” instrumentum domesticum as source for the economic history of Rome

Silvia Orlandi

Sapienza - Università di Roma

The importance of inscribed instrumentum domesticum for our knowledge of ancient economy has been recognized since the time of Heinrich Dressel. However most modern studies about the process of production and distribution of goods in the Roman world are based on stamps (amphoras, lamps, bricks and so on) and other kinds of “standard”, repeated information (like graffiti and tituli picti inscribed on different part of amphoras). In this kind of documentation, the information potential above all depends on the massive quantity of material at our disposal, in different part of the Roman Empire, attesting the routes of commerce and the different roles of people involved in it. But an unexpected amount and variety of information about the economic history of Rome can also be drawn from “non stamped” and “non massive” instrumentum, including different kinds of small inscribed objects, like, for example, signacula, tesserae, tabellae immunitatis, slave collars, weights and other measures. Short texts, frequently using abbreviations, often inscribed on objects whose archaeological origin is unknown, can become useful and informative for historical research only if we are able to make them “speak”, putting them in relationship with other texts and information, thus restoring their historical and geographical context.  Only in this way, small inscribed objects can throw light not only on the every day life of the ancient Romans but also on their economic activities. This aspect must be taken into account also in the process of digitization of this kind of inscriptions that is currently on the way in the framework of different international projects: a digital archive including “non stamped” instrumentum should not only consider the particular nature of both texts and artefacts, but also make evident their contacts with other materials and sources through prosopographic and topographic links. The purpose of this paper is to describe the current state and the future prospects of such an undertaking within the context of the project EDR (Epigraphic Database Roma).

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Epigraphic Economies (organized by the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy)

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